Social workers have the responsibility of working day and night to people improve their overall well-being. They have played an important role in society since people realized that their psychological, family, economic, and social conditions impact a person’s health and the choices they make. Therefore, it is not surprising that one of the biggest sub-divisions of healthcare workers is concentrated towards healthcare.
Medical social work, which is also known as healthcare or clinical social work, helps in upholding the standards of quality healthcare. The focus is on diminishing the disparities between ethnicities and social classes, which in turn affect public health.
A social worker is responsible for working in the frontline to provide their services to patients and their family members. The focus is on alleviating the social, psychological, and financial issues that became the cause of such a health condition. They are also responsible for promoting a healthy lifestyle, coping mechanisms, teaching preventative measures to avoid getting sick and addressing the different barriers to healthcare access.
But if we consider their day-to-day activities, then their activities vary according to the community they work in, healthcare accessibility and setting, etc. Hence, we will observe some ways that social workers contribute to healthcare.
1. Determine The SDoH
The healthcare industry is heavily invested in improving health outcomes and lowering costs. But only data and analytics can’t supply them with the information they need to determine all the factors contributing to these issues. There are many social determinants of health (SDoH) that impact patient outcomes.
To fill this gap, healthcare informatics professionals who have a relevant degree, like a masters of science in health informatics, should work in collaboration with social workers. Together, they determine all the non-clinical factors that impact communities. For example, language barriers between the healthcare providers and the patient can cause communication gaps.
The patient will be unable to understand the questions and instructions, and therefore will have difficulty cooperating with the healthcare professional. Similarly, the patient’s environment, living conditions, financial status, and access are all different factors that determine their health.
To support the healthcare industry in the efforts to diminish these barriers, social workers involve themselves in IT usage and how it can help the patients.
2. Patient Intake Screening
Patients who have a history of significant mental illnesses that meet the criteria categorizing them as high risks have to undergo a screening process with medical social workers. During this procedure, the social worker performs several assessments about the patient’s mental condition by assessing their social, environmental, emotional, and financial needs.
Considering all these aspects, the social worker concludes the patient’s mental state and then shares the results with other healthcare professionals who are involved in the particular patient’s case. The mental health assessment, in turn, is useful when the healthcare professionals make a specialized treatment plan for that patient.
3. Provide Patient Counseling And Education
Medical social workers are responsible for helping the patient, and their loved ones cope with the difficulties of an illness or a treatment. They help them cope with social responses and emotional responses to the patient’s condition. On top of that, the social worker is also responsible for educating the patient and their families about community resources, entitlements, and health insurance.
4. Inform The Patients Of Their Rights
A social worker often has the responsibility of informing patients about their rights. To be specific, general patient’s rights include:
- Right to be treated with dignity and respect
- Right to make their decisions about their health
- Right to choose a doctor
- Right to ask questions
- Right to be free of neglect, abuse, or exploitation
- Right to know about the expenses of medical treatments before they undergo the procedure
- Right to access their medical records and information
- Right to emergency medical help regardless of their ability to pay the bill
These are some of the rights of the patients, and it is the responsibility of a healthcare social worker to inform the patient about them in case they are facing any issues.
5. Discharge Planning
Before a patient is discharged from the hospital, medical social workers are responsible for ensuring that all the necessary needs are met. They have to ensure that all the services and things that the patient needs after their discharge are available. This protocol helps in ensuring that the patient receives adequate treatment and rest at home to heal properly.
Moreover, if the resources are not available, the social worker has to arrange for the resources to pay for the medical equipment and medications needed for their recovery.
6. Patient Advocacy
Anything that a medical social worker does, they do it for the sake of the patient. They are the first advocates a patient has in the healthcare setting, and it is their responsibility to ensure that all the needs of the social workers are fulfilled. For this reason, social workers often directly advocate on the patient’s behalf and help facilitate the communication channel between the patient and the healthcare professionals.
They also have to take the necessary steps to arrange health insurance coverage for the patient. Lastly, social workers act as the thought leadership the patients need to advocate for their rights.
7. Take Part In Ethical Aspects Of Healthcare Administration And Policymaking
Healthcare social workers also play an active role in formulating and discussing all the ethical aspects that impact healthcare policies and administration. These roles can take a few forms. For example, social workers can participate in these discussions as standing members of the Institutional Ethics Committees (IECs).
They can discuss cases that are ethically complex and help in making policies regarding such special cases. Social workers play an active role in ethical policymaking due to their extensive exposure to different communities, patients, and their families. To work in a setting as complex as healthcare, a social worker must have a specific set of skills that can help them perform their job properly.
For example, they need listening skills, patience to handle professionals and patients, critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, etc. For they are the professionals, people turn towards when they don’t know how to seek help.